SNOQUALMIE, WA –
For the 11th year in a row, because of the U.S. Open I’ll miss seeing you for Father’s Day. I’m really sorry for that, and I wish it were different. The tradition of the tournament ending on Father’s Day makes for some great made-for-TV schmaltz for the broadcast, but leaves us journalists out in the cold.
Still, you know that, metaphorically speaking, you never leave me, and besides, it’s fun sharing the tournament with you like this, in an article. You get something to read and keep in the scrapbook, I get to unwind on paper – stretch my legs as a writer – and have a chat with my favorite person in the World about the tournament. It’s a win-win for both of us. Good Lord willing, I’ll see you for breakfast soon enough anyway, and you can give me your unfiltered opinion of my writing this week.
We can have our own “Shit my Dad Says” moment.
It was another historic week at a major; between a wildly popular winner, a gorgeous and brilliantly designed golf course enjoying its coming out party, and a wildly dramatic finish, golf fans should be dancing on clouds right now. Talk about a cold rock thriller, as the kids say! Jordan Spieth won the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay by one shot over Dustin Johnson and a hard-charging 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen, (pronounced “LOO-ee WEST-hay-zehn”). Spieth’s final round 69 gave him a 5-under total of 275 for the week, but more importantly propelled him into the Open at St. Andrews as only the sixth golfer in history to win the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year. The list of the other guys is a Who’s Who of world golf, all immortals: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, your boy Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, (twice), and Craig Wood, the great pro of the ‘40s who hailed from up in our neck of the way, Lake Placid.
If he keeps this up, maybe they’ll name a soft drink after Spieth too.
He hardly won in immortal fashion, however. In fact, you could almost say he backed into it at the end, when Dustin Johnson three-putted the last hole. We haven’t seen a hockey game like that break out on a 72nd green since Stew Cink, Retief Goosen, and Mark Brooks all monkey-humped the last at Southern Hills in 2001.
Like Stew Cink in 2001, Johnson went from winning outright, to missing out on a playoff and becoming a goat for the ages, (again), in the span of a minute and a half.
It was a minute and a half of real time, but a lifetime of hard work dashed. It should have been Johnson’s redemptive triumph, his apotheosis. Instead it’s yet another ignominious defeat in a major. Dustin was playing lights-out golf from tee to green all week. For goodness sake, he not only hit all 14 fairways on Saturday when he surged into a four-way tie for the lead, he drove two par-4 greens! He was clearly the best and most consistent ball striker all week.
“From tee to green, I’m playing the best golf of my life,” he lamented.
But Johnson ranks 159th on the PGA Tour in putting inside ten feet – 159th! – and you can’t win majors if you miss short putts.
Just ask Phil Mickelson. It was only when Phil started the “Circle of Death” drill – make 100 consecutive five footers on the practice green – that he finally broke through.
Sure enough, although Johnson entered the back nine on Sunday with a two-shot lead, he frittered it away in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. He missed short putts on 10, 11, 12, 13, and 16, making three bogeys in the process and dropping to 3-under.
And when Spieth made a magical up-and-down from the edge of a bunker for birdie on 16 to climb to 6-under for the tournament, Jordan’s three-shot lead looked insurmountable. Every journalist in the house filed out of the lunch room to write their leads – Game, set, match: Jordan. Right?
But then, out of nowhere, the reigning Masters champ turned into one of your 18-handicap golf buddies. He cold-block pushed his tee ball into the spinach patch right of the par-3 17th green. A hack out onto the green, an indifferent lag, and a cruel lip out later and – hold the phone! – the lead was down to one.
And things looked bleak, because as you know, guys that double bogey the 71st hole aren’t supposed to win majors either…Ask Phil Mickelson about that too.
Cue Louis Oosthuizen. The man who vaporized St. Andrews to win the 2010 Open Championship seized his opportunity. Louis, who started the day three off the pace, thought he had shot himself out of contention with three bogeys in the first four holes. He sank from 1-under to start the day to 2-over. He was done, it seemed.
“Started awfully, really. The first fairways, the first few holes, couldn’t get to greens, had to struggle. 3-over through 4 is not the start you want,” he recalled.
But Chambers Bay if full of swing holes – both birdies and bogeys by the fistful, and Louis caught fire late. We’re talking like “Towering Inferno” fire. He birdied five holes in a row – 12-16, including a miraculous hole-out of a wedge on 14 – and parred the 17. He closed with one final birdie at the 601-yard par-5 (on this day) 18th hole for a U.S. Open record back nine of 29. Only Ian Baker-Finch has equaled that feat, firing a 29 on the front nine of Royal Birkdale in the 1991 Open Championship. Louis posted 4-under 276 for the tournament: the leader in the clubhouse, and tied with Spieth.
But this would be the second time Louis would hole out a shot from the fairway in the final round and still finish second.
And if Oosthuizen’s surge wasn’t enough motivation, after Spieth split the fairway on 18 with a long tee shot deep into Position A, he heard a roar from back on 17 that could only mean one thing: Johnson finally made a putt and surged into a tie for the lead. Suddenly three players were 4-under.
All to play for: one hole to go and three superstars in the mix. How could you not love this tournament?
Jordan had complained about the 18th hole Saturday night, claiming the green wasn’t set up to receive long shots, and shouldn’t be a par-4, (it rotated during the course of the week, another of Mike Davis’s “flexible set up” ideas). The USGA relented from their previous position and let it stay as a par-5 instead of switching it for Sunday as they originally planned.
Jordan hit the green in two anyway – doing what the true greats do in the clutch: Respond! With a two-putt birdie he took a one shot lead, whereupon he retreated into the scorer’s tent to watch Johnson.
Johnson couldn’t have asked himself to hit a better approach to a 72nd hole. His laser-beam 3-iron approach finished just 12 feet above the hole. The adoring crowd was now agog with the thought of what could transpire…and Spieth was horrified by it.
“Eagle,” thought Spieth. “I lose.”
But then the unthinkable happened, and Dustin not only missed the eagle putt, but pulled the shorty coming back.
“I’m still in shock,” Spieth explained. “I’ve never experienced a feeling like this, just kind of total shock. I thought that I had won it on 16…I didn’t think I had lost it after 17 but I thought I needed to play 18 well just to play tomorrow. And then after DJ hit his second shot in, I thought, Shoot, I may have lost this tournament. And just utter shock at the finish.”
Johnson, on the other hand, was less than gracious. He refused to come to the media center for an interview: Bad form. My friend and colleague Hank Gola of the New York Daily News cornered Johnson in the locker room after the round and got a few comments, though none made Johnson look any more gracious:
“Disappointed,” he said sullenly. “I played really well. I didn’t make any putts today, I really didn’t. I had all the chances in the world. I’m really proud of the way I hit the ball. Proud of the way I handled myself all day…..“If I rolled the putter halfway decent today . . . which I did roll it well . . . just any putts go in the hole, I win this thing by a few shots, it’s not even close.”
Dad, it makes me think Dustin didn’t learn anything during his six months off. He had all those drug and legal problems when he was in college, but we forgave him. He goes and chokes away the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach after having a three shot lead leading into the final round, and we all felt badly for him. But then he goes and has that suspicious rules flap at the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and blows his chance to be in a playoff. Let’s review: notice is posted all over creation that all bunkers are hazards – you couldn’t take a whiz in the locker room without seeing it because it was actually posted above all the urinals, next to all the mirrors, and on everyone’s locker.
But Dustin was too important and too busy to bother reading the rules. I wrote an article about it, comparing him to Roberto DiVicenzo, who blew the Masters by signing an incorrect scorecard: to paraphrase Roberto, “What a stupid he was…”
…and then the…alleged…“suspension” for “personal issues,” personal issues rumored to be hard drugs.
If he had come back and been transparent about what happened – or even just politely declined to talk about saying something like, “Can’t we just let it be in the past and let me make my future?” – I could live with that. But instead he feeds us some BS line about booze and taking care of it by making a bet with his famous father-in-law.
That story was as flimsy as Robert Allenby’s, yet Johnson got a free pass from the media because everyone likes him. Some in the media are getting star-struck, and repeating the same mistakes we made with Woods by pandering and enabling him.
Johnson skipped the award ceremony as some kind of silent protest against the USGA set up and the greens, but since he’s 159th in putting on the tour, if he has any bad looks to throw away, he can throw them at a mirror. Johnson’s getting harder and harder to like, because he doesn’t make himself a sympathetic figure.
You can tell what a man is truly like by how he acts in his worse moments. Phil Mickelson blew a U.S. Open even though he had a three shot lead with three to play, and he came out and answered every last question asked of him. With a chance to show us how gracious and grateful he’s become after all his…troubles…Dustin again failed to impress.
Rightfully so, the USGA left his chair empty, Johnson’s silent protest instead backfiring on him, and making him look petulant. What a stupid he was…again.
Dad, it’s as though the Golf Gods really did nod this time, they smiled upon the more graceful, classy, hard-working, grateful kid. You’d love Spieth because we journalists don’t have to invent a hero where one doesn’t exist. Dan Jenkins likes to say that we can impugn a lot of grace and class on a guy who wins golf tournaments, but don’t have to invent or impugn anything about Jordan. Instead, we have a role model to watch and be inspired by. Spieth is the son you brought me up to be: he says “please” and “thank you,” he calls everyone “Sir” or “ma’am,” and he’s polite, gracious, and thankful. “Golf, God, and country” instead of hookers, pancake waitresses and entourages, instead of celeb-utard WAGS and wild parties, instead of entitlement and attitude.
We also can hope for a triple crown at St. Andrews and maybe even a shot at a Grand Slam at Whistling Straits. I know, I know, let’s cool off on all the Grand Slam talk until after the Open. We’re not frogs and Spieth’s not a bunny so let’s not jump ahead. St. Andrews is first, a chance for the next step in history. Only Hogan held all three titles – US, British, and Masters – in the same year. St. Andrews is the perfect place for history to be re-made.
Happily, Spieth is plucky about it.
“Right now, I’m just focused on the Claret Jug,” he stated. “I plan to go there on a charter, the way I’ve done the last two years, after the John Deere, that’s the plan. So I won’t be there as early as I was for this major, but that’s the same time I got in for the Masters, so I don’t think I have to be in early this year. I got in late Sunday night to Augusta.”
Talk about win-win situations, heading into the Open Championship at the Home of Golf, St. Andrews it’s Jordan Spieth, who won the last two majors, against Rory McIlroy, who won the two majors before that and who is the reigning Open Champion. Not only is it the Now Generation’s greatest names locking horns – with all the rest of the rising young stars nipping at their heels – it’s America’s great champion vs. Europe’s.
And that’s another one of the great successes of this year’s U.S. Open: the leaderboard featured all the young mega-watt star power. It wasn’t the Next Generation making their mark, it was the Now Generation commanding respect. Guys like Spieth and Johnson, Reed and Day, McIlroy and Fowler, they are no longer up-and-comers, they are the face of the PGA Tour…when you can find them in between Tiger Woods highlight packages.
Tiger-philia starts to look downright silly when he keeps hitting ground balls into bunkers, losing his grip on the club so it helicopters across the course, and shooting 80 or worse. Happily this week we only had to put up with two days of hagiographic hero worship from head-cover sniffing pseudo-insiders like Notah Begay. It used to be that despite Woods’s trunk-slamming, tire-screeching early exits, he’d still hijack the weekend broadcast, even though he was aboard his yacht Solitude. But Dad, I’m thrilled to tell you that it finally may be sinking in – they may have been last to read the memo, but even broadcasters (except Begay) admit it: Woods has lost a step and will never dominate again. They also finally acknowledge that golf needs to turn the page to survive; Woods is no longer the face of the game, and the Now Generation are equally compelling and have far less of a bad attitude.
I wish we had turned a corner or a page regarding the appearance and set-up of golf courses. With all the credibility of a bad Yelp! review written by a socially awkward nimrod, broadcasters who know nothing about golf architecture are falling all over themselves to parrot the complaints of lazy, pampered pros in lambasting Chambers Bay: not only for the justifiable reason of a fistful of bumpy greens that suffered a poa annua infestation, but for being a links course to begin with, for being different, for daring to have character and originality.
I don’t mind them griping a little about the greens, but have a little grace and class. That wannabee Chippendales model Henrik Stenson made an infamous remark about “putting on broccoli,” and promptly appointed himself Public Enemy No. 1 in the Pac-Northwest. As he approached the 17th green, fans serenaded him with a mocking “Brooooooc-liiiiiiiiiiiiii! Brooooooc-liiiiiiiiiiiiii! He muttered a few choice unprintable curse words in their direction. Then when someone shouted, “How do you like the greens now?” after he missed another putt, he acidly snarled back, “I love them!”
That was bad enough, but then everybody else had to get into the act too. Billy Horschel, whose clothes are as ugly as Y.E. Yang’s, rudely trashed the greens in a post-tournament interview. Three words: consider the source. Then McIlroy, Garcia, Brandel Chamblee: basically everybody just decided to vent. It became the talking point du jour, whereupon it went from being a legitimate complaint to being a crutch and an excuse to a sideshow, a chance to practice for Amateur Night at the Apollo. At times things looked more like a swarm of bees got loose in an all-midget production of Shakespeare’s Richard III than a major network sports broadcast. People were so schized out, I half expect to next see them in the firearms section of Wal-mart asking a clerk where they keep the anti-depressants.
And things devolved from there. As they say in the infomercials, Dad, “But wait! There’s more!” The old prejudice against biscuit brown links courses reared its ugly head again. It was the tired mantra of “too brown,” too bumpy, “too British,” and it makes me respond with a loud, lusty “Too bad!” Last year Pinehurst looked as burned out as Chambers Bay did this year – every time I player hit an iron shot at Pinehurst, a cloud of dust rose up, that’s how baked and burned Pinehurst was. It was crispier than the hippie chicks I used to date in college. Why is it so holy and noble and perfect at Pinehurst, but so objectionable at Chambers Bay? Is it because one is 100 years old and the other is seven? Or is it because one is designed by Donald Ross and the other by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.?
Then there’s this lunacy, this pure weapons-grade bolonium that “links courses are supposed to be flat.” Flat like St. George’s? Royal County Down? Gullane? Balybunion? They each have hundreds of feet of elevation change. Granted, Chambers Bay has 601 feet of elevation change, but so what? It means it has that much more character.
Moreover, Dad, we still need to teach people that it’s not how a golf course looks that’s important, it’s how it plays and Chambers Bay played terrific: fast and firm with all its character-filled undulations coming into play in the fairways and on the greens. It also has countless “half-par” or swing holes. There are opportunities for eagles on par-4, flexibility with the ribbon tees, and a finish that can dole out eagles and triple bogeys and everything in between. The guy who wins at Chambers Bay isn’t the guy who makes 18 pars, but who makes five birdies and three bogeys. That makes for more movement up and down the leaderboard and, correspondingly, more excitement.
Just like we saw on Sunday – a finish for the ages.
I’ll remind everyone that the pros hated Hazeltine National when it opened too – so Jones and his father share something else in common. But with a little softening up – smoothing out blind shots and flattening out some quirky greenside bounces, Hazletine became not just palatable, but enjoyable. So much so it hosted another U.S. Open, two PGAs and will host a Ryder Cup next year. In time, we’ll come to love Chambers Bay too. Critics hated the Rolling Stones’ album Exile on Main St. when it first came out because it was different from what the Stones did before, (it went back to their musical roots). But over time it acquired a magical glow and became known to the cogniscenti as their greatest work, their magnum opus.
The same is true for Jones and Chambers Bay. The course takes golf design back to its roots. Over time, with a few changes to smooth out the rough edges, Chambers Bay will rightfully acquire the same magical glow and be spoken of in the same holy whispers. Scottish writer John Huggan had a fair and intelligent assessment when he said it was “a step too far in the right direction,” but only when you try go farther than anyone expects, that you accomplish things people never knew possible.
You taught me that.
As for the rest of the week, you know how when people always tell me to have fun and I respond that I’ll have fun when all the writing’s done and everyone likes the piece? Well this time the old adage rang true: sometimes when you’re not trying to have fun, you might have a little by accident.
The flight out was interesting. Before take off, a morbidly obese south Asian woman stinking of patchouli or sandalwood or some other cloying fragrance sat next to me and nearly made me barf with her oppressive stink. I had resigned myself to three hours of Dante’s Inferno when, just before takeoff, a drop-dead, three-state crime spree gorgeous, leggy vixen looked at the woman and said, “I think you’re my seat…”
Suddenly the walking spice rack turned into a rock-tastic, curva-licious siren. She’s blond! She bright! She’s beautiful! Of course she likes golf – she’s from Minnesota!
The girl ended up in my arms, of course. I am your son after all.
The rest of the week was equally good. I landed in Spokane, on the other side of Washington from Chambers Bay, in order to play Gamble Sands on my way to the tournament. That’s the hot new David McKay Kidd golf course. He’s the guy who designed the eponymously named first course at Bandon Dunes. It’s a true links course, with everything links golfers love: windy, treeless, sandy soil, open routes to greens so you can play the ground game, it’s as authentic as haggis, bagpipes, and Glenfiddich. It’s a great addition to the national public golf scene and joins Chambers Bay and Wine Valley as the must-play public courses in Washington.
Then there were my accommodations for the week. I was the envy of my colleagues in the media center. A friend hooked my up with his pals who own a boat, a guy who’s a jazz music promoter. It’s another win-win situat5ion: I get to hang with like-minded locals acting as my concierge for the week, they get to live vicariously through me and all the stories I tell, and we all drink tequila long into the night. There’s no downside here.
Now I had no expectations as I made my way westward along I-90, but when I reached trail’s end I broke into a wide smile and thought “NO…FREAKING…WAY…”
It was a Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack-esque monster – 70 feet from stem to stern – towering over the rest of the boats in the marina: Das Boat, the definitive article! It was comical how it dwarfed everything around it, Yao Ming among a bunch of Peter Dinklages. Das Boat had so much modern sat-com electronics you could run a small government from it.
“Oh no, I could run a large government from here,” said the boats owner.
Yes, the posse was waiting for me, rock music blaring and tequila in hand, Tres Generaciones to be exact. They may be crispies, but they have impeccable taste. We took perverse delight in stepping out onto the bridge to get behind the wheel, hit the foghorn, and shout, “Hey Smells! My dinghy’s bigger than your whole boat! Save me a parking space. I’m coming in!”
The one drawback was that since I’m the shortest – again – I drew the smallest berth, the forecastle, (pronounced and alternatively spelled “foc’sle”), the spot in the absolute front of the boat. The space tapered to a point, narrowing sharply, while also curving up. So in order to fit, I had to sleep diagonally, something I only figured out after tossing and turning the entire first night. We didn’t find the cushions until the next morning, so I basically spent the night in a sarcophagus. That was interesting. Remind me to never become a Pharaoh.
I also got to spend time with Jeff Shelley, my editor-in-chief at Cybergolf, as well as co-writer Tony Dear, stalwart fellows, both of them. Jeff saw me working so hard on Friday night, he actually gave me a direct order to, “Stop writing and drink,” whereupon he poured me a glass of rye that would drown a hippo.
It was delicious. He has good taste in hooch too.
The rest of the week was actually relaxing. I took two 10K runs, one through the streets of Seattle, the other through a pretty mountain town called Snoqualmie. I’m writing this from there, actually. I ran past a Chinese restaurant called “Ming’s Palace,” and the smell of egg rolls grabbed me right in the C.O. Jones, so I’m writing this in between mouthfuls of spicy shrimp chow mein.
So as I breathe in the wine-like bouquet of the Cascade mountains, I’m reminded of our summer days in the backyard. You’re cooking steaks on the grill, Mom’s fussing about everything, and we’re rehashing the day’s round at Crestwood over RC colas. Golden days, indeed…
I miss those days, Dad. I still feel a twinge that I’ll never play golf with you again, never take you to a major tournament, never get you to Augusta like I promised, but at least we can share breakfasts, dishes of pasta, and golf telecast or two.
I remember the horror I felt when you told me doctors said you had 18 months to live. But here you are four-and-a-half years later, and going strong, thank the Good Lord Above, (and Mom for all her hard work!). I’m grateful for every day I have with you.
Heck – at age 90 you actually tried a case! That has to be some sort of record. If I grow up to be even just half the man you are, then I’ll be twice the man the World could ever ask me to be.
So I hope you enjoyed the tournament Dad. Let’s do this again next year. It’s so much better having you to share it with.
With deepest affection,